Statement of Green Education and Legal Fund on the Lack of Climate Action by NYS Lawmakers
By Mark Dunlea, author of Putting out the Planetary Fires
518 860-3725, firstname.lastname@example.org, www.gelfny.org
Lack of Climate Action by NY Lawmakers a Death Warrant for Humanity
Even as tens of millions of New Yorkers and other East Coast residents face a public health emergency from climate-driven wildfires in Canada, legislative leaders at the State Capitol are sending their members home for the rest of the year without taking action on many key climate issues.
The United Nations has repeatedly warned that governments are moving far too slowly to keep global warming below the safe target level of 1.5 degrees C. Scientists now expect that tipping point to be breached within the next five years (if not sooner), an existential threat to humanity, especially for the many developing countries located in the tropics where climate change is taking place fastest. This week the heat index in parts of Puerto Rico and the Caribbean soared to 125 degrees F, a situation that scientists called “astonishing.” A “once-in-200-years” heatwave has engulfed Southeast Asia and China.
While the State Senate did approve the NY Heat Act (to curtail gas subsidies and to cap utility bills at 6% for lower-income residents) and Climate Superfund (to make the largest polluters pay), the Assembly has failed to move these and other key climate bills. Lawmakers also failed to pass measures such as ending part of the $1.4 billion annual tax subsidy for fossil fuels (Stop Climate Polluters Handout Act); divesting the state teachers’ pension fund from fossil fuels; shutting down the Sheridan Ave power plant that has polluted a low-income Albany community for a century and convert the Capitol Complex to 100% clean renewable energy; reduce plastic packaging; and, enact protections for environmental justice communities from the state’s new pending cap-and-trade program. Investing significant climate funds in environmental justice communities that bear the brunt of climate change remains primarily a slogan rather than a reality.
The IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) acknowledges that its recommended goals for reducing carbon emissions are far too slow to keep global warming below 1.5 degrees C. The IPCC instead is relying on the “miracle technology” of carbon capture to give the world “a chance” of avoiding climate catastrophe, even though it acknowledges that after decades of research and tens of billions of dollars of investment, it has not been proven to be viable. Such speculative capital-intensive technologies will be a boondoggle for corporate investors and have received widespread promotion from Democratic party elected leaders at the state and national levels.
The nomination of Justin Driscoll to head the New York Power Authority (NYPA), which is still pending as of Friday morning, has received considerable criticism from climate activists, public power proponents, and progressive lawmakers. Stories have emerged this week that when Driscoll was an attorney for NYPA, he blocked complaints about racial discrimination. He also worked at Weinraub and Brown, a notorious corporate lobbying law firm that promoted the fossil fuel industry. In the state budget, lawmakers approved a proposal first advanced by Governor Cuomo four years ago to authorize NYPA to build renewable energy but left it to NYPA and other energy stakeholders to determine what – if any – will be built. There is a need for a wholesale change of the culture at NYPA to move away from fossil fuels, which requires a climate activist, not a fossil fuel enabler to head it. There is also an urgent need both to expand public power and enact changes to require grassroots democratic control over such agencies.
Cap-and-trade programs (branded cap-and-invest) such as what DEC is now developing have historically failed to effectively cut emissions, while often allowing pollution to continue and often increase in low-income and communities of color. Even Pope Francis has condemned such proposals as schemes to benefit Wall Street speculators. Virtually no support for a cap-and-trade version of carbon pricing was expressed during the three years of public input into the state’s climate scoping document. In the last moment of the state budget fight, Governor Hochul proposed significantly weakening the emission goals for the state as she allegedly just realized that carbon pricing leads to an increase in pricing for fossil fuel products. Cap-and-trade often fails because politicians weaken the cap on emissions at the last moment to appease the fossil fuel industry.
Even though the Democrats control both the Governor’s office and have a supermajority in both houses, legislative leaders are once again caving to pressure from the fossil fuel industry, the tabloids, and campaign donors. The overhaul of state legislative action long-promised if the Democrats won control of the Senate from the GOP has quickly returned to a system dominated by special interests and three people in the back room, with the needs of New Yorkers – and life of the planet – a minor concern. Lawmakers sought to defend their lack of action on climate over the last three years on the grounds that they were waiting for the state’s climate scoping plan from the CLCPA to be completed. What is their new excuse?
Climate action means standing up to the power, wealth, and misinformation of the fossil fuels industry. We need to convert our state to one based on clean renewable energy that will lower energy costs, end the many annual deaths from air pollution, reduce the negative impact of global warming, and generate hundreds of thousands of good-paying jobs. It will be expensive in the short term but pay for itself in less than a decade. Politicians are notoriously bad however at looking beyond the next election.
Avoiding climate collapse requires leaders willing to put the common good ahead of the greed of the 1%. With some notable exceptions, that leadership is in short supply at the state capitol. Lawmakers however are finding the time and energy to change the new partial public campaign finance program into more of an Incumbent Protection Act.